Leo Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina has changed readers’ lives for generations, but for one man in particular, the epic novel saved his life. Over at NPR, we learn the story of Mohamed Barud, a man who was sentenced to life in prison in Somalia for complaining about the conditions at the local hospital. During the years of his imprisonment, he exchanged knocks on the wall with an inmate in the next cell, creating a code for each letter of the alphabet. And, in this way, Barud read the entirety of Anna Karenina to the prisoner next door. “”[Barud] says it didn’t matter how different their lives seemed. This 19th-century Russian noblewoman seemed to be suffering exactly as he was. An honest suffering drives her into a state that Mohamed most feared for himself. Anna throws herself under a train and regrets it at the last moment. ‘I really cried. I felt for her.'”
“I hadn’t gone back in time, but in a sense Rome had come forward, by insidious and sly degrees, under new names, hidden by the flak talk and phony obscurations, at last into our world again.” Whatever you say, Philip. Was Philip K. Dick a mystic or was he just a madman?
In the late seventies, when Susan Sontag was recovering from cancer, she hired an assistant to help her catch up on correspondence. Her editor recommended Sigrid Nunez, who began working for Sontag and ended up moving in with her. Nunez now recalls the experience with a mixture of gratitude and pain. In Dissent, a look at the economy of creative assistants.
If your default mood hovers between melancholy and despair, you may be cheered (or at least made a bit less glum) by this argument that striving for happiness is bad for us in the long run. Mari Ruti makes the case that a “happy, balanced life” depends in large part on a kind of emotional numbness.
You may have heard that X-Files star David Duchovny published a novel last week. The
book, which developed out of an idea Duchovny had in college, centers on a teenage cow named Elsie who befriends a Yiddish-speaking pig. At Salon, Anna Silman interviews the actor/author, who talks about his book’s allegorical nature and his rumored beef with Vancouver.